Les Carpenter says farewell

Dave · March 7, 2005 at 6:30 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Only slightly Mariner related, but Les Carpenter wrote his final piece for the Times today, as he has taken a job with the Washington Post. Les didn’t write about the Mariners very often, as he mostly covered the Seahawks, but he was one of the better writers the Times had, and I wanted to give him something of a USSM sendoff. So, without further ado, my Les Carpenter story, usually referred to as The Brian Hunter Debacle.

On April 28th, 1999, the Mariners sent Andy Van Hekken and Jerry Amador to the Tigers for Brian Hunter, a speedy “leadoff hitter” and left fielder that the team had been chasing. I use the term hitter pretty loosely, as Hunter had managed a .254/.298/.333 line the previous season, and was hitting .236/.311/.309 at the time of the trade. He was basically the offensive equivalent of Willie Bloomquist, but because he was fast, he managed to squeeze 1200 at-bats out of the Tigers in ’97 and ’98. They finally realized he sucked and sent him to Seattle. Our little community of Mariner fans were, well, pissed.

On April 29, 1999, as a project for my senior year, I had a job shadow with Les Carpenter. At this point, I was pretty serious about becoming some kind of sports reporter, and Les was kind enough to let me hang out with him for the day. I got to his office in the morning and we talked for a while. Since he was the NFL writer, though, there wasn’t a whole lot going on, and he suggested we head over to the Kingdome for the afternoon game between the M’s and Tigers. He wanted to get some quotes from the M’s new leadoff hitter, and it would give me a chance to watch some “real interviews”. So we trekked over to the ‘Dome in the morning and started making the reporter rounds.

On the way, Les and I spend most of our conversation talking about the Hunter trade. I’m vehemently against it, explaining how Hunter’s remarkable penchent for making outs is going to sink the offense, meaning that Edgar and A-Rod and Jr are going to be coming up with nobody on far too often. Les is more optimistic; he likes Hunter’s speed and thinks he can be a Vince Coleman style sparkplug at the top of the order. I try my best to convince Les that Hunter’s OBP is a sinkhole, but its to no avail. We eventually settle on the “we’ll see” point of view.

So, we’re down on the field, hanging out, Les is collecting a few quotes, and out comes to the newest Mariner left fielder. There’s not much of a crowd, so Les and I head over to talk to Hunter. In something of a surprise, Les asks me if I want to ask the questions, and I easily agree. He introduces me to Hunter, explains whats going on, and we proceed with the interview. Les handed me about 5 or 6 questions he wanted to ask, and said I could throw in one or two of my own at the end if I got comfortable. So, we start off talking, the typical new player interview, with questions about Detroit and the trade and his feelings. The last question on Les’ list is about what Hunter feels like he can bring to the team, and his response led to my two questions. I’ll paraphrase the conversation below; since this was 6 years ago, the exact wording might be a llittle off, but it went something like this:

Dave: Okay, Brian, the Mariners have been looking for a leadoff hitter for years. What do you think you’ll bring to the team?

Brian: Well, I think I’m one of the best in the game. I’m a basestealer, and I put the offense in motion. I get in scoring position for the big guys to drive me in. I’m a tablesetter.

Dave, launching into my first question not written by Les: Well, you almost never walk, so you don’t get in scoring position that often, right?

Brian, realizing this isn’t so much a question as an assault: Umm, I don’t get paid to walk.

Dave: Yes, we’ve seen that. So how do you plan on stealing first base?

Brian: Mother$#@*^ing kid. Get the #@$! out of here.

And thus ended my interview with Brian Hunter. Les thought the whole thing was funny, though told me that I was way out of line. So, we made our way to the press box, where I continued to tell anyone who would listen that Hunter was going to ruin the Mariners offense.

The Mariners won 22 to 6 that day, as Hunter went 3 for 6, stole a base, and, as the entire press box agreed, ignited the offense.


50 Responses to “Les Carpenter says farewell”

  1. Jeff Sullivan on March 7th, 2005 7:07 am

    That must’ve been a painful day in the press box.

    I’d say something along the lines of “he who laughs last, laughs best,” but after Hunter put up a .206 EqA in 500+ PA’s that year, I don’t think anyone came away feeling like a winner.

  2. GWO on March 7th, 2005 7:13 am

    my Les Carpenter story

    Dude, that’s not a Les Carpenter story. Les, is scarcely in it. It’s a David Cameron story, revealing (to nobody’s surpries) that he was a smug kid, who thought nothing of jeopardising the standing of Les Carpenter with the Mariners in order to make a peurile point to someone who — although a lousy MLB hitter — was somewhere in the region of 700 times more talented than David Cameron.

  3. troy on March 7th, 2005 7:26 am

    Hey, GWO, do you think possibly that by sharing this story, Dave was, I don’t know, pointing out his own flaws, perhaps admitting the mistake he made? I mean, maybe that wouldn’t be “to noone’s surprise,” but is sure seems plausible. Please kindly think before you comment next time.

  4. petec on March 7th, 2005 7:32 am

    Re: .2

    First of all,it’s “puerile”, not “peurile”. If you’re going to impress us with your vocabulary, at least take the 2 seconds to run a spell check. Second, there’s no comma between “Les” and “is”.

    What’s with all of the posters taking potshots at this site’s writers lately? If you can’t stand the writing, go away. Simple. If there’s a restaurant I don’t like, I don’t keep eating there and complaining to the manager.

    And, whether Brian Hunter is a better hitter than a writer is scarcely the point. The point is whether there was someone else who could have been a better leadoff hitter than Hunter, and there were dozens at the time.

  5. Lou on March 7th, 2005 7:40 am

    I think his point was that Dave insulted Brian, just as he is now insulting Dave, who is maybe 700 times more talented than he is.
    It all happened six years ago, Dave actually might have been a smug kid. Thanks Dave for sharing.

  6. zzyzx on March 7th, 2005 7:51 am

    It’s too bad you couldn’t have strung along The Out Machine a little better. 99 though was a time of statshead smugness (Lord knows I wasn’t immune to it) when everyone thought these new ideas would sweep away the old, wrong ideas, so it’s not suprising that you fell a little victim to it too.

  7. Noel on March 7th, 2005 7:51 am

    Maybe Dave’s criticism “ignited” Brian Hunter’s offense. 🙂 The Mariners should have brought Dave back to interview Hunter every day before the game!

  8. chris w on March 7th, 2005 7:59 am

    “They don’t pay me to walk.” That’s a line that was very common a few years ago, but guys – especially leadoff hitters – just don’t say it anymore. The times are changing.

    Why shouldn’t Brian Hunter have to answer tough questions about his OBP? Seriously, I can understand why a player would get mad if you go after him with non-baseball questions, but it sounds to me like Brian Hunter was the one with the bad attitude. The apparently widely-held belief that reporters have a duty to stroke players’ egos in order to get more interviews needs to be challenged.

  9. Ivan on March 7th, 2005 8:06 am

    Hi Dave:

    Since I am the one who helped set up your day with Les in the first place, in the interest of accuracy and the whole truth, I can report that Les Carpenter turned out to be a self-centered prick who crossed his union’s picket line during the 2000-2001 strike, and I for one am glad this town is rid of him.

    After 30-plus years of working in daily newspaper journalism, I can also tell you, with some authority, that your questions to Hunter were not out of line in the least. Keep up the good work.

  10. Spiegs on March 7th, 2005 8:13 am

    Bummer that Carpenter crossed the picket line, I still think he has been one of the better sports writers in Seattle. While I was working for the M’s in the 90’s he was always respectful and kind. He also had the ability, in my opinion, to be equal parts good columnist/reporter and Seattle sports fan. I’ve always thought that his articles are well-written, well-researched, and (unlike Fox News) fair and balanced.

  11. Paul on March 7th, 2005 8:26 am

    Looking at the boxscore I would say Griffey (2hrs) and Bell ignited the offense that day…

    I think the premise of questioning him about his tablesetting skills was valid. However “So how do you plan on stealing first base?” was smug and I’m not sure Brian had to take that from an intern/tagalong.

  12. Ty on March 7th, 2005 8:28 am

    To be honest, I don’t think you were out of line at all. When he says he’s one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, you have to question that. He obviously thinks too highly of himself. He was the one that was out of line.

  13. Scraps on March 7th, 2005 8:56 am

    Thanks for the story, Dave; it’s amusing, and I enjoy getting peeks behind the scenes like that.

  14. Bryan on March 7th, 2005 9:01 am

    Just an amusing story about both Les and Dave…. I don’t see why it has to be taken so seriously. No need to get all zealously contrarian on us.

    Funny how a guy could be as bad as Brian Hunter was, and have that type of ego. very strange.

    Les is a very solid writer and I always enjoyed his work, he and Jim Trotter at the local paper are a couple of my favorites.

  15. Adam S on March 7th, 2005 9:28 am

    Great story, thanks for sharing Dave. I don’t think the questions were so much out of line, as that they would be better directed at the GM or Pinella. “You just got a lead-off hitter who makes outs 70% of the time, how will that start the offense”? Would have been funny to hear Lou’s answer given that he never understood the value of an out.

    This may be one of the worst Mariners’ trades ever in terms of short-term impact. They sat down Butch Huskey who would up at .290/.353/.496 and slowed the development of Ibanez to let Hunter “ignite” the offense.

  16. DMZ on March 7th, 2005 9:29 am

    Oh, how I love that story.

  17. Ralph Malph on March 7th, 2005 9:32 am

    If a guy doesn’t have confidence in himself he’ll never have any success as an athlete. Get down on Hunter because he sucked, but don’t criticize him for having an ego. No hitter can go up to bat saying to himself “I suck, I hope I don’t make an out here. Maybe I can draw a walk.”

  18. troy on March 7th, 2005 9:40 am

    So crossing a picket line makes one a self-centered prick?

  19. DMZ on March 7th, 2005 9:52 am

    Please, can we not get into the larger issues of labor relations, the Times-PI strike, scabs, and the related cowardice of Steve Kelley during the strike?

  20. DMZ on March 7th, 2005 9:58 am

    Also, from that column comes this clanger:

    After the Mariners’ disaster last year, the first voices of fan outrage were heard and the team responded by committing to take a financial loss by signing Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson.

    First, they weren’t committing to take a financial loss. They don’t know how the season’s going to turn out, how many fans are going to show up. They might “risk” a loss, but they’re not somehow guaranteed to take a loss because of it, though this is almost certainly the storyline they’ll be pushing.

    Second, no they didn’t. This team’s hugely profitable, no matter what they tell you when they’re playing the lowered-expectations game. Their payroll isn’t so outrageous even with those two.

  21. tede on March 7th, 2005 10:32 am

    Is there anybody at the Times who didn’t scab (Carpenter, Nicole Brodeur, Steve Kelley, Blaine Newnham – who is leaving this spring)?

    btw, Dave if you had asked me your question I would have spit human growth hormone and steroid juice onto your Nikes.

  22. DMZ on March 7th, 2005 10:53 am

    I know Larry Stone did not cross, and wrote for the Union Record, which was a fine paper.

  23. Jim Thomsen on March 7th, 2005 10:56 am

    That is one of the best Beyond The Sportswriting Glory stories I have ever heard. Dave, you are my personal hero. I will sing folk songs in the hills in praise of your apocalyptic temerity. I laughed so hard I may need to double to my insulin dosage today.

    Whether or not you think Dave did wrong in “insulting” Hunter is a matter of no small subjective opinion. It depends on how you view the sportswriter’s role.

    If you think any journalist’s job is to seek out truth, and that sportswriters should be subjected to this same standard, then Dave gets a senior project grade peppered with gold stars and red-pen smilies.

    If you think the sportswriter’s role is to safeguard mainstream conventions, protect insider access and help promote athletes and teams to the community, then absolutely Dave did wrong.

    I am a sportswriter, operating often uncomfortably within the mainstream, and wish I had the nutsack to ask those questions.

    Maybe now I do.

  24. Manzell B on March 7th, 2005 10:57 am

    Whoa. John Halama isn’t in the big leagues anymore?

  25. Dave on March 7th, 2005 11:16 am

    For what its worth, I think I was out of line, more to Les than to Brian, however. He trusted me to handle myself as a representation of him, and I clearly went a direction that he wouldn’t have gone. So, in that sense, I used the opportunity to go beyond the scope of what I was given authority to do. In that sense, I was definitely out of line.

    But that’s not really the point of this thread. I think its a pretty funny story, and I figured you guys would get a kick out of it. That’s all.

  26. Paul Sieczkowski on March 7th, 2005 11:21 am

    Re: #23
    I’m no Brian Hunter apologist. I thought he was a useless out machine too. And the fact that he was deserved media attention and shouldn’t have been conveniently ignored. Still, there has to be a more tactful way to make inquiries to a player than to flippantly say “how do you expect to steal first base?” Ultimately I think you want to see how the players justify the skills they bring to the game rather than just antagonize them.
    But truthfully, I found it a funny story. I just don’t think people should go overboard and say it was appropriate and the right way to conduct business. I mean he was practically Jim Rome calling him “Chrissy Everett”.

  27. AK1984 on March 7th, 2005 11:21 am

    That was, without a doubt, a amazingly amusin’ story; it was a legitimate form of ‘infotainment’.

  28. Christopher Michael on March 7th, 2005 11:55 am

    That was classic. Thanks for the antidote.

  29. Joshua Buergel on March 7th, 2005 12:00 pm

    That’s seriously hilarious, I love that kind of story. I just finished Seasons in Hell, which is chock full of that kind of thing as well. I only wish I had another similar book I could read now.

  30. Ivan on March 7th, 2005 12:54 pm

    dmz @ 22:

    In the Times Sports Department, of those who are still there, Bob Finnigan and Percy Allen honored the picket line, in addition to Larry Stone. The scabs included Bud Withers, Jose Romero, Jayda Allen, and the execrable Steve Kelley. None of them are even worth a good gob of spit.

    Newnham is a different case. He was management, and had no choice but to cross. It doesn’t excuse his mediocre career of self-serving corporate butt-kissing hackdom.

  31. Dave on March 7th, 2005 12:59 pm

    Seriously, Ivan, tell us how you really feel. Don’t keep it all inside.

  32. Jim Thomsen on March 7th, 2005 1:00 pm

    I’d be interested to know how the line-crossers are being treated by their colleagues today, some four years after the fact. E-mail me at thomsen1965@yahoo.com.

  33. Slooz on March 7th, 2005 1:03 pm

    Thanks very much for the antidote, it cured my blues!

  34. Evan on March 7th, 2005 1:18 pm

    There’s a great piece on the official Blue Jays site about Frank Menechino and Kerry Lightenberg, both of whom were replacement players in 1995 and are thus barred from the MLBPA. But the article was their advice to NHLPA members. Basically, they told them not to cross the line, and not to become replacemment players. Menechino regrets his decision of 1995, and while Lightenberg still thinks he made a good decision, he thinks he was a special case that doesn’t apply in hockey.

  35. DMZ on March 7th, 2005 1:33 pm


    You used Dave’s story to neutralize poison? Really? How? When? Where? Why?

  36. drjeff on March 7th, 2005 2:01 pm

    This is almost the perfect opportunity to relate a baseball-writer “antidote” of my own, about the time I met a kinda-famous SI baseball scribe. I was a starry-eyed early adolescent, he nearly set an airplane on fire in a drunken stupor.

    But, that’s another story for another day. Loved the story, Dave. And, nicely written. You can’t get that just anywhere.

  37. AK1984 on March 7th, 2005 2:18 pm

    Dave’s anecdote was good, as it showed how one can garner informatively entertaining stuff when being antiauthoritarian; Dave did a wonderful job botherin’ Brian L. Hunter.

  38. Rusty on March 7th, 2005 2:26 pm

    Also from Carpenter’s final column:
    This is a start. But if Seattle is truly going to be on the road to Boston, the gentle city is going to have to grow tough. The small peeps of the last few months are going to have to become a roar. Everybody — telecasters, radio hosts and especially the fans — will need to raise their voices and holler for the winning.

    Radio host and telecasters, hmmm. I tell you, Rizz, Niehaus, etc. will never aspire to be anything more than cheerleaders for the Mariner franchise who, thankfully for all of us, choose to wear pants instead of conventional cheerleaders skirts.

  39. tede on March 7th, 2005 2:36 pm

    Didn’t Bud Withers sue the P-I (and lose?) when the P-I hired Laura Vescey instead of promoting him and then he ended up at the Times? I’m not sure how I would view his position.

    But man Steve Kelley….after all his columns ripping people for not having the “correct” politics to go out and scab.

    Back to topic, I’ve never been that impressed with Les Carpeenter’s work. So I’m surprised he landed a gig with the Washington Post. If he covers the Redskins, he’ll have fun (especially in light of his final column). Dan Snyder is supposedly pulling the Post’s 200+ season tickets in retaliation to the Post’s coverage.

  40. bilbo on March 7th, 2005 3:00 pm

    …and I say good ridance. As a Seahawks fan, the negativity of his articles drove me bonkers and I stopped reading him because of it. I hope he isn’t covering the redskins in DC because they will loathe him.

  41. Jeremy on March 7th, 2005 3:11 pm


    Carpenter wasn’t negative. He was just right. Truth hurts, bro.

  42. Jon on March 7th, 2005 4:55 pm

    I was somehow pleased, at the end, when it says it is the final piece by Carpenter. The whole theme of his piece just doesn’t ring true to me. There were too many cheap shots at easy or unnecessary targets. And blaming the fans in a pathetic attempt to rally them seems juvenile at best. I don’t even give him points for cleverness or cuteness. I’m surprised to say this: Good riddance, Les; don’t let the door hit you on the backside.

  43. Jeremy on March 7th, 2005 5:25 pm

    If Les Carpenter were such a bad writer, why did he just get hired by the Washington Post?

  44. JenV on March 7th, 2005 6:46 pm

    Great story, Dave. You are clearly a smart-ass from way back. 🙂

  45. tede on March 7th, 2005 7:38 pm

    “If Les Carpenter were such a bad writer, why did he just get hired by the Washington Post?”

    Ever hear of Janet Cooke?

    I know the Post was planning to ramp up their sports dept. in a major way with the arrival of the Nationals. Les may represent the quantity and not necessarily the quality of this expansion.

  46. Jonah Keri on March 7th, 2005 8:39 pm

    Dave, you *&%*%&%# kid…that’s one of the best stories I’ve ever heard, baseball-related or otherwise.

  47. Michael Roper on March 7th, 2005 8:46 pm

    Way too many humorless folk about. The story was a hoot, and as always with Dave–a quality piece of writing. I hope one day to read it again in his book.

    As for Les, I won’t miss him. Don’t think I’ll ever forget his bizarre take on Shaun Alexander’s “stabbed in the back” hissy fit last season. Not a critical thinker, that one.

  48. Dave on March 7th, 2005 9:13 pm

    You should hear my “buying my car on Ebay” story. Now that is a story.

  49. Adam S on March 8th, 2005 12:03 am

    Oh, do tell. This thread seems to have run its course and has already diverged a few times.

  50. Darolyn Quayle on March 16th, 2005 10:05 am

    Couldn’t agree more with the following quote:

    “But that’s not really the point of this thread. I think its a pretty funny story, and I figured you guys would get a kick out of it. That’s all.”

    I was a great Les Carpenter fan because I loved his writing style and the point of his thread was to cover a sports story with fact and humor put together in an interesting fashion. I’ll miss him but glad to hear he wasn’t simply a victim of downsizing but rather had the opportunity to move on to a job with more opportunity. If possible – I would love to have him read this note from a fan who will miss him greatly.

    Darolyn Quayle